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- A's slugger Yoenis Cespedes has been underperforming so far this season, but maybe his Home Run Derby win will give him a boost for the second half.
The best story of the 2012 season is spilling over into 2013 with the promise of a dramatic final chapter in October.
The A's (56-39) are heading into the second half with the American League's second-best record, they lead the AL West by two games and they're holding a strong hand for the stretch run in August and September.
Here are a few reasons why the A's should beat the Texas Rangers to the finish line again this year and repeat as division champs.
Schedule: Prior to the All-Star break, the A's compiled an 8-3 record against three of the National League's four best teams (St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds) and the AL's top team (Boston Red Sox). Now, they open the second half with 13 straight games against sub-.500 clubs, which gives them a chance to distance themselves from the Rangers, who play three with the Baltimore Orioles, four with the New York Yankees and three with the Cleveland Indians.
Only 24 of the A's last 67 games are against winning teams, so they should get fat feasting on the runts of the AL.
Starting pitching depth: Last year, the A's won the AL West because of their depth on the mound. Every time a pitcher went down (Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, Brett Anderson) another young arm (Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily) was ready to step in and get the job done. The A's are in the same position this year.
Right now, the rotation's ERA is third-best in the AL (3.86) and with the club's 2011 first-round pick, Sonny Gray, throwing well in Triple-A (8-5, 2.81 ERA) and Anderson potentially returning from a stress fracture injury, the club could lose an arm to injury, burnout or performance-enhancing drug suspension without slipping in the standings. Too much pitching is the best problem a manager can have.
Power surge: Last year, the A's were 13th in the league in batting average (.238) and 12th in on-base percentage (.310), but they compensated by smacking 195 home runs (sixth in AL). Right now, the A's are hitting .245 (12th) with a .322 OBP (sixth), but the power numbers are down (98 HRs, 10th in AL) through 95 games.
The power shortage is a reflection, in large part, of Josh Reddick's injuries, Brandon Moss' struggles and Chris Young's complete disappearance in the first half. If these three bats can start popping — and they should — the A's should cruise down the stretch teeing off against some of the worst pitching in the league.
Yoenis Cespedes: Last year, the A's went 12-22 without Cespedes in the lineup and, somehow, they're in first place right now despite his woeful first-half stats (.225 batting average, .293 OBP, .713 slugging percentage).
Cespedes has been through a lot of family distress over the past year, so it's possible he's just burned out from all the drama. But the Cuban missile is too talented to sleep walk through an entire season. Maybe his performance in the Home Run Derby on Monday will be enough to jump-start his bat in the second half.
If Cespedes produces like he should down the stretch, and Reddick, Moss and Young's bats come alive, the A's could see a fairy tale ending to the season in the fall.
Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.